Ch. 31: Blame—Fury
The next evening, Bathsheba leaves to visit Liddy’s sister’s home, on the pretext of wanting to inspect a farming device the sister’s husband has invented but in fact to avoid Boldwood’s return. The land is fresh after a sweet rain; “the pleased birds were hymning to the scene.” As she walks, evening falls: “The time of deeds was quietly melting into the time of thought, to give place in its turns to the time of prayer and sleep,” it seems to her. Two miles from home on the road toward Yalbury, however, Bathsheba meets just the man she hoped to avoid—Boldwood. When he sees her, he can hardly speak—he has read her letter. She turns away, but he stops her and demands to know: Is her “no” final? He begs her to have pity on him and to remember that he never gave a thought to marriage till she “drew me on.” Bathsheba, full of guilt and pity, corrects him: “What you call encouragement was the childish game of an idle moment. I have bitterly repented of it—ay, bitterly, and in tears.” Boldwood dismisses this excuse; their “moods” may have differed, but the message of the valentine still holds. He wonders why her somewhat yielding mood of several weeks ago has changed to outright refusal and feels torn between “recklessly renouncing you, and laboring humbly for you again.” But then he comes to his real accusation: Troy has taken advantage of his absence to steal Bathsheba from him, so he is dishonored as well as disappointed. Like Oak and the serving women, he disapproves of Bathsheba’s “new freak”: “Dazzled by brass and scarlet—O, Bathsheba—this is woman’s folly indeed!”
Bathsheba’s emotions swiftly change from pity and guilt to anger when Boldwood presumes to scold her and to curse Troy. She declares her love for the soldier. Boldwood, who knows that Troy has kissed Bathsheba, threatens to horsewhip the soldier and stalks off. Now Bathsheba is filled with fear for Troy, who will return to Weatherbury soon from a visit to Bath. She sits down, in despair, on stones by the path and sobs, oblivious to the beauty of the emerging stars in the night sky.
Yet another voice of warning accosts Bathsheba’s ears in this chapter. Boldwood does not bother to be disinterested, as Oak does, but his message is the same: Bathsheba errs by loving Troy. Readers may note with interest how often she defends Troy against harsh words; now she must also, she thinks, defend him against physical violence. It’s as if she senses that Troy is too weak to defend himself, which suggests that she knows the truth about his essential nature and is in fact “dazzled” by his appearance, as Boldwood suggests.
Ch. 32: Night—Horses Tramping
It’s a quiet night, close to midnight, in Weatherbury, and Maryann is sleeping alone in the farmhouse. She wakes, uneasy, and is making the rounds of the house when she sees someone lead a horse from the paddock, harness it to a vehicle, and trot away. Thinking that a woman and a gypsy may have stolen the horse, Maryann runs to Jan Coggan’s house to raise the alarm. Coggan and Oak borrow horses from Boldwood to give chase. Coggan’s tracking skills guides them for miles. He can tell that the stolen horse is Bathsheba’s Dainty and that the horse has gone lame. They catch up with the thief at a turnpike and, to their shock, see that it is Bathsheba herself. She has left on an urgent mission to Bath and left a note rather than waking Maryann. She dislodged a stone from Dainty’s hoof and is now pressing one, but she won’t say what the urgent errand is. She sends the men home, and they go, agreeing between themselves to say nothing of this matter.
Bathsheba’s midnight journey to Bath has two purposes: to warn Troy that Boldwood intends to thrash him if he returns to Weatherbury and to renounce her love for him. As she rides, however, she spins fancies of what their life together might be like and punishes herself by imagining him leading this life with any other woman. Though she began the journey confident of reaching Bath by dawn, she misjudged the distance by half. Both she and the horse become exhausted.
The narrator acerbically questions Bathsheba’s motives for the journey to Bath, asking whether she was “ altogether blind to the obvious fact” that Troy’s charming presence will make it harder for her to give him up or in fact “sophistically sensible” that by renouncing him in person, she will get to see him again? After all, she had no trouble writing to Boldwood and taking actions to avoid him.
Ch. 33: In the Sun—A Harbinger
A week passes, and no word from Bathsheba reaches Weatherbury. Finally a brief, vague note for Maryann arrives, saying merely that Bathsheba has been detained on business. In the heat, the laborers begin to harvest the oats, under Oak’s direction, but take a break when they see Cainy Ball headed across the fields, dressed in his best clothes. He’s been on holiday in Bath, where he saw “our mis’ess” with “a sojer.” The laborers pump him for information in a comic scene in which he keeps choking slightly on food and can’t get out the words that Oak is so desperate to hear. Bathsheba looked beautiful, Cain says, on the arm of the soldier, whom he recognized as Troy; yet as the two walked in a park, she cried “almost to death.” Then he regales the laborers with descriptions of the fashionable city before they return to work. Coggan, who alone among the villagers knows of Oak’s love for Bathsheba, advises him: “Don’t take on . . . . What difference does it make whose sweetheart she is, since she can’t be yours?” Oak wishes he could take this advice to heart.
Comedy, largely centered on the wide-eyed Cainy Ball, who has “seed the world at last,” contrasts with Oak’s fears and worries for Bathsheba in this chapter. She has run toward the destruction he tried to persuade her to avoid. Coggan emerges in this chapter as one of the more important characters among the villagers. He has become Oak’s confidante and friend, discreetly keeping to himself what he knows about Bathsheba, Oak, and Troy, despite the village’s appetite for gossip.
Ch. 34: Home Again—A Trickster
In the evening Oak hears Bathsheba’s trap (the small vehicle she drove to Bath) approach. Liddy and Bathsheba are coming home. Bathsheba and Dainty look exhausted, but Oak is glad to see his mistress home safe and not in Troy’s company. After the trap passes Oak, Boldwood walks past as well and knocks at the farmhouse. He has come to apologize for his harsh words at their last meeting, oblivious to the fact that Bathsheba has been in Bath with Troy, and not at Liddy’s sister’s house, as was given out. Liddy tells him that Bathsheba is not at leisure to see him, so he leaves. In town, he sees Troy arriving and feels “a sudden determination” to speak with the soldier. He returns home to get a cudgel and then confronts Troy about “her who lives just ahead there—and a woman you have wronged.” Troy is offended, but the cudgel compels him to speak civilly. Boldwood tells Troy that he and Oak are aware that Fanny is pregnant with Troy’s child; Troy must marry her. “Indeed,” Troy claims, “I wish to, but I cannot”—he’s too poor to support a wife and child. Boldwood offers to pay Troy handsomely to marry Fanny and leave Weatherbury—and Bathsheba—behind.
Troy takes this offer—he prefers Fanny anyway, he says, and was merely “inflamed” over Bathsheba for a little while. Boldwood gives him fifty pounds, the first installment of the deal, trusting that Troy will not walk away from the five hundred pounds promised when he weds. Troy hears Bathsheba’s steps and says he will take his leave of her now; Boldwood may eavesdrop if he stays quiet. Bathsheba enters, calling “Frank, dearest” and reporting that she has sent everyone away from the house so that “nobody on earth will know of your visit to your lady’s bower.” He says he’ll be there just as soon as he can pack his bag, so she departs to wait for him at the farmhouse. Boldwood is beside himself with rage and gets his hands around Troy’s neck, but Troy implies that Bathsheba is pregnant and that he can “save her” only by marrying her. Boldwood agrees; the “deluded woman” must marry Troy to avert disaster. Troy is enjoying Boldwood’s torment and twists the knife by saying that he’d rather marry meek little Fanny than headstrong Bathsheba, forcing Boldwood to persuade Troy to marry Bathsheba. Boldwood offers to spend the five hundred pounds to buy out Troy’s commission (a common practice at the time) so that he can, as a civilian, wed quickly; but Troy must never tell Bathsheba that he did this for her. Together, they go to Bathsheba to explain the plan. Troy enters the farmhouse, closes the door on Boldwood, and sets the chain. He passes through the open crack a marriage announcement from a Bath newspaper—his and Bathsheba’s. Laughing in derision at Boldwood’s dismayed shock, he flings Boldwood’s money at him and locks him out. Boldwood, utterly defeated, wanders the woods “like an unhappy shade in the Mournful fields of Acheron.”
In this lengthy but pivotal chapter, Troy’s victory over his rivals seems to be complete, but his character is revealed in the delight he takes in deceiving and mocking Boldwood. Readers also see the deterioration of Boldwood in his desperation: He is no longer acting like “the firm and dignified” gentleman farmer known to the villagers and is now proposing plans that he “would have condemned as childishly imbecile only a few months ago.”
Ch. 35: At an Upper Window
Before five the next morning, Oak and Coggan go to the fields, and Oak glimpses Troy leaning on the frame of an upper window of the farmhouse. “She has married him!” Coggan declares, and Oak turns pale as his mind “sped into the future, and saw there enacted in years of leisure the scenes of repentance that would ensue from this work of haste.” He wonders—did Bathsheba intend to marry Troy all along, or has she been “entrapped” somehow? He feels “unutterable grief” for this union, which he is sure will go ill for Bathsheba. Troy interrupts his thoughts by calling to them from the window. Troy is full of plans, after one night in the farmhouse, to modernize the “rambling, gloomy house.” In a sudden change of subject, Troy asks Coggan whether there is any history of insanity in Boldwood’s family. Then he drops the subject and, tossing down a coin so that Coggan and Oak can drink his health, assures the men that even though he’s master now, their relations will still be friendly. Oak won’t pick up the coin and tells Coggan that he won’t flatter Troy, even to keep his job. Boldwood passes them on horseback, looking drawn, and Oak shares a silent grief and agony with him.
The kind of master Troy will be is hinted at in the first glimpse of him presiding over the farmhouse. Having secured the prosperous farm, with its history and tradition, he quickly decides, based on no experience whatsoever, that it’s not good enough for him. That he is unworthy of the authority he’s married into is clear from his treatment of Oak and Coggan—it betrays his self-doubts, despite his brave face. In addition, Troy hints, to readers at least, that he is afraid of Boldwood, despite having gained easily what Boldwood labored so hard and ineffectively for.